Former NFL Player Writes Dissertation On Football 'Afterlife'07:59
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Former NFL linebacker George Koonce turned his life around after struggling with depression, inactivity, and suicidal tendencies after his football career ended following the 2000 season. (AP)
Former NFL linebacker George Koonce turned his life around after struggling with depression, inactivity, and suicidal tendencies after his football career ended following the 2000 season. (AP)

Former football player George Koonce played eight seasons with the Green Bay Packers and one with the Seattle Seahawks. Then when he was 32, he wasn't rehired.

He said it took him about two years to realize that the phone call from the NFL wasn't coming and he came upon the "what now" wall that professional athletes face: too old for the game, too young to retire.

He went through serious, suicidal depression. As he writes on ESPN.com:

I had a wonderful wife, beautiful children, money in the bank and a Super Bowl ring back on that day in 2003 when my post-NFL transition took my Chevy Suburban around a 25-mph corner at three times the posted speed.

Whatever happened that day was going to happen. I didn’t really care.

By the grace of God, I survived what was, in retrospect, a suicide attempt. But paramedics weren't going to cart me off. No chance. The football tough guy in me refused to get into that ambulance. My wife, Tunisia, drove me to the hospital and saved my life with words, not medicine.

Koonce decided to go back to school for a doctorate in philosophy and he wrote a thesis that has proved timely. In fact, he turned in his dissertation on the issues facing former football players on the same day former player Junior Seau committed suicide.

Koonce is just one of the voices calling for change in the game, not just on the part of the NFL but also on the part of players in how they plan for what Koonce calls "the afterlife." As he writes:

In the locker room, we want to talk about how we're going to get past the Cowboys or 49ers. We’re not talking about weaknesses. We’re not talking about being scared. When guys start feeling that way in retirement, they go off by themselves and they start self-medicating: drinking, taking pain pills, taking narcotics, trying to fill that void.

... How much money is allocated toward players' transition away from the game? What about deferring some of the players' salaries until they reach a certain age and have matured enough to use it more wisely?

...The average NFL career lasts only a few years. The game requires a player's unconditional investment while promising a very conditional and one-dimensional return. It produces too many athletes unprepared for anything else.

Guest:

  • George Koonce, former NFL linebacker

This segment aired on July 10, 2012.

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